In praise of volunteering

Sunday Blog 67 – 15th January 2023

Borrowed from the interwebs from here:

I had never really done any volunteering work until I had my daughter. Then, bored and awash with 15 years of work experience and skills, I discovered the joys and excitement of volunteering, and I was hooked. That was 23 years ago.

From the moment I lodged my first grant application, spinning words in a grant application into gold, and then into services and activities which really met a need, I was totally hooked. I remember thinking how I had often made career choices that were interesting, sideways or otherwise not very well paid. It was interesting to do something for no money at all.

Since that time I have been lucky enough to make a living in the not for profit world, building those skills from the early days. I mean, it wasn’t until I’d been a volunteer for about seven years that I underwent training at the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). It was a scheme to upskill women and was just a learning bite of their large curriculum. I still remember my amazement on learned that Board members are not supposed to do anything. They are there to oversee strategy, governance and risk.

The only reality I had known was that volunteer organisations have two, or if you’re lucky, three volunteers who sit on the Board or as it is now know, Management Committee and do absolutely everything. That training made me realise that it’s the same mechanism to run a hockey club (with its two keen and/or resigned volunteers doing everything), and a massive not for profit such as RAC, with paid staff and a paid Board.

Fast forward to me skidding out of a not for profit organisation to make time to write. (And it is coming along nicely thanks, still a work in progress, but definitely progressing.) It’s not an exaggeration to say I am a not for profit governance nerd. And that needs an outlet…

Occasionally I will reflect on my day and realise I have spent the entire day on volunteer tasks for my neighbourhood. Oops.

Of course, it could be another fiendish form of writerly procrastination, but it sure is fun…

The sound of a holiday ending

Sunday Blog 66 – 8th January 2023

As I covered up my mother’s swimming pool with its blanket, the wheel squeaked in a mournful kind of protest. It’s quite a big pool, and the sound grated for what felt like several long minutes.

I was just about to take my brother and his adult daughter to the airport to catch their plane back to Sydney. For two weeks of their holiday, the pool had seen countless cousins, nieces grandchildren and great grandchildren diving, swimming and cooling down in the hot Christmas weather. The generations mingled and just hung out.

The pool cover finally finished unspooling, and there was just the melancholy task of dropping the travellers off at the airport. We hugged briefly in the madness that is the drop off area in front of the airport and talked about our next catch up. Back in the car I fussed with my phone to dial up the location of my next appointment. Always keeping busy, staying a few steps ahead of the feelings.

It didn’t really work, I still had to feel the feelings. The sobbing would come despite my best efforts.

Happy New Year!

Sunday Blog 65 – 1st January 2023

I love to spend this in-between time between Christmas and New Year reviewing what I said I would do last year, and dreaming up the next year. My new year planner is waiting for me to fill it with my visions and plans. My 2022 Vision Board is done (see below) from an awesome workshop with my yoga teacher Natalie Snooke. For the stationery and goal lovers among you, I am sharing some of my New Year planning shenanigans.

I used to be very keen on Desire Map Planners until they stopped being produced in 2021. These planners encouraged you to focus on your feelings. The idea was you would think of up to five feelings that were most important to you – your Core Desired Feelings. You could then reflect weekly on these and aim to creatively bring them into your day every day, not just when you achieve big goals. And by this regular reflection and seeking to feel how you wanted to feel, you would move more effectively and efficiently towards the goals.

At the beginning of 2022 I had to fish around for a different type of planner. One that allowed me to reflect not just on feelings, but on habits. James Clear filled the Desire Map Planner vacuum by encouraging me to focus more on developing the habits that will help you achieve your goal. The Jeanette Winterson quote at the top of this blog came to my attention via James Clear’s 1-2-3 newsletter. (Mind you, I have long ago read and loved Jeanette Winterson’s 2012 memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and strongly suggest you read it immediately, if not sooner!)

But I digress. James Clear urges us not to just focus on finishing the book for example (my number one 2023 goal) – but rather focus on establishing the habit of daily writing. As the late, great author Hilary Mantel said, “if, seven days a week, you can cut out two hours for yourself, when you are undistracted and on-song, you will soon have a book.”

In 2022 I had a MiGoal planner which allowed me to track habits which on the whole I liked but it had GOAL DIGGER in giant gold lettering on the front which felt a little much for where I’m at. My 2023 MiGoal planner is the A5 Weekly Spread diary which allows me to track habits but is much more slimline and less rah rah. I couldn’t be happier!

I have pared down having up to five Core Desired Feelings to having one word for the year. (There are umpteen references to this on the interwebs if you feel like exploring). This year I aim to take many new creative risks, now that I have finally worked out how I think I can make enough to live on without pushing writing to the margins again. So my 2023 word is Magic.

I hope you have had a wonderful break and enjoyed this in-between time however it played out for you. Here’s to doing 2023 our way!

The elf re-appears – kind of

Sunday Blog 64 – 18th December 2022

Last week I spent my Sunday Blog sharing my health woes and feeling a bit sorry for myself. This Sunday I am happy to report that my Elf, while still a bit elusive is at least visiting regularly. The neck pain is largely receding and my energy is returning in fits and starts. I was even able to do a short beginners yoga session this morning. That felt like a small miracle.

Today another new journey began when my Airbnb guests arrived. I had taken Marie Forleo’s advice of starting before we were ready, which meant a mad, last-minute scramble to get everything done before their arrival. With my Elf missing in action, it has been a hard slog painting, cleaning, lugging furniture and more cleaning. But it’s done.

I am now officially an Airbnb hostess, health advocate and carer for my mum. I have the basics covered financially so I can get on and finish the damn book.

I am definitely blaming the Elf for the recent lack of progress on the book. This week is the great re-set! And I am leaving myself no room for lamenting how I am not getting any younger and just get on with it already.

I take great comfort in this quote from James Clear:

Most people do not consider 65 to be a young age… but when you’re 75, you’d love to rewind to 65 and regain those years. Few people would describe 35 as your youth, but in your mid-50s your mid-30s will seem like the “young you.”

Today is a great opportunity, no matter your age. Looking back in a few years, today will seem like the time when you were young and full of potential or the moment when you could have started early or the turning point when you made a choice that benefited your future.

The moment in front of you right now is a good one. Make the most of it.”

James Clear,

Certainly spending more time with a 96-year-old reinforces this wisdom. Plus I am not even 60 yet. Today is a great opportunity indeed! Seizing the moment, and clutching onto my Elf.

As long as you’ve got your elf…

Sunday Blog 63 – Sunday 11th December 2022

I remember this cartoon from years ago–I can’t quite find the right attribution without falling into a black internet hole so I am taking the risk of just posting it, anyway. It’s so topical for me. Because, Christmas and Elf. Yes, mature people are always saying “as long as you’ve got your health” and a wag, sick of hearing this, riffed on it with a Christmas theme comic.

For over two weeks now, my health has been unpredictable and its absence has stripped away everything normal. Yoga practice, Sunday Blogs, writing… everything is weird.

I’m not convinced of the usefulness (or indeed the existence) of Elves. But my health is something that, when it is missing, I desperately seek it and remember its value.

The short story seems to be my neck is out. That has meant no comfortable way to lie, sit or stand. Migraines that won’t stop, even a trip to Emergency which helped with the worse excesses of the nausea phase. But every night now I am lucky if I sleep until midnight. Then it’s a cat and mouse game of trying remedies and distractions, repeat until dawn.

The very worst thing for me is I wake with absolutely no energy. To say I am a morning person is a vast understatement. My flat mate from the 1990s in London so hated my cheerful early morning trill of “Shower’s free!” that she has re-purposed it into a wake up call for her teenage son, so he too can suffer as she did.

Now the morning finds me on this strange shore where I wake feeling like I have been squeezed of every last bit of joy. I shuffle through the morning hours until about 9.30, when I typically would have been doing my yoga and feeling on top of the world.

I miss my health. I don’t know where it is, or when it will come back. But when it does, I will remember to lay my gratitude on thick. Without it, life is hard..

A year on…

Sunday Blog 62 – 20 November 2022

So clearly I haven’t had a professional follow up photo – but here I am, one year on from the 23rd November 2021 discovery within my gold diary’s pages that I’d had ENOUGH. It was time to quit the day job.

I decided as well as quitting the day job I would let my hair go grey, an outer sign of the massive internal transition. I still consider them two very good decisions.

And what has a year taught me? How close am I to knowing what’s next?

Well, I am still a health nerd. I sit on a handful of national and state health-related committees still. I definitely feel people are entitled to my opinion and rarely hesitate to offer it. I’m still tilting at plenty of health windmills.The wonderful thing is, I don’t have to run an organisation as well.

Informed health choices is still a core passion that burns with the heat of a thousand suns. This week alone I was able to help two people navigate our health system.

I am still working on the novella, and I have progressed a lot thanks to the Emerging Writers program.

I am still working out what I need to do to make a living, as it’s not retirement time just yet. I have been amusing myself looking at some of my scribbles from last year as I emoted over many diary pages what to do to earn a crust. Do I want finish the process of becoming a certified coach? Nup, I have finally worked out. But not before signing up to me an International Coach Federation member, re-engaging with my wonderful coach trainer and getting temporarily enthused about doing a Masters. Oh, and deciding against the Singapore Trip to become an Enneagram coach…

Do I want to be a consultant? Well, not if it means perpetrating yet more unread reports on the world. Alas I had already bought a Microsoft computer thinking that I would need that as a big shot consultant. I re-discovered how much I loathe Microsoft and my icloud and One Drive files have turned into a sort of glorious digital Eton Mess. Oh, and I registered for GST – because, thinking big. That has now been cancelled by my long-suffering accountant and I only need to do one more BAS.

I mean, it’s a hell yes to facilitating complex conversations and getting someone else to do the write-up. But not a full-on consultant, with writing pushed to the margins again.

Do I want to stack shelves at Woolies from 6am-10am? Well, after emerging from all that consulting I thought I might. At least that wouldn’t take up all my mental bandwidth like consulting does. I flew through the first few stages of the recruitment process for my local store (to be fair, they were all automated) but at the face to face interview the manager gently probed how someone with my ahem- sedentary work history would go with the hard yakka of stacking shelves. He wisely suggested I sleep on it and I awoke at 3am in a cold sweat. Imagine losing all my gorgeous morning hours I’ve just clawed back.

Do I want to look after my mum? Hell yes.

Do I want to do Airbnb the granny flat to assuage my aching maternal heart now my adult daughter has moved out? Hells yeah.

I was trying to work all of this out in November 2021. When oh when will I learn that it must unfold?

And that if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no?

Gracetown Cookfest

Sunday Blog 61 – 13th November 2022

I’m not sure if any of my other siblings even remember that holiday. But it’s stayed with me to this day. The Gracetown Cookfest holiday I am calling it. In need to differentiate it because every holiday since the 1960s we six lucky children went en famille to our asbestos beach shack in Gracetown, near Margaret River. This simple rectangle of a house was built over a couple of weekends by my dad and a couple of friends and was endlessly tweaked over the decades. He sold the house in the nineties. (I know. Devastating!!)

On this particular Cookfest holiday, my dad had decided he was going to do some cooking. That may sound revolutionary for a working man in the 1970s. But as the middle child of eleven in a family of nine boys he simply had to help his mother out. He worked beside his mother, who was a good cook, and he became one too. 

She would bake a loaf of bread I guess daily, using natural yeast starters like potato skins. Her scones were legendary and her recipe has been passed to her numerous grandchildren. My uncle John, just two years older than my father, was relegated to managing the dairy farm. His kitchen experience usually meant wolfing down food.

“I could swallow a scone whole without biting it,” he would tell us at many family gatherings over the decades. Nine boys are stiff competition for nutrition!

On the way down to our Gracetown beach house that holiday, dad stopped at a fresh food market. That wasn’t really a “thing” in those days. I can still recall the deep, vital green of the celery sticks he chose. The orange carrots, the enormous onions. The plumpness of the chicken he chose for his stock. I was entranced so entranced by the whole ritual I can still remember the larger-than-life celery looked and how good the meal he made tasted. It was like a whole world away from the apricot chicken, the tuna and almonds, the insipid, pale curry with currants or endless chops and over-cooked vegetables that were usually on the menu for us.

Today I googled chorizo chicken and prawns to find a funky new dish to combine those three awesome ingredients. (Jumbalaya. Delicious!). One minute I was chopping celery, the next I was transported back to that Gracetown kitchen, channeling my dad and cooking up a storm. He passed in 2020 and when I think of him the most when I am cooking.

Our headlines change…

Sunday Blog 60 – 6th November 2022

There is a trigger warning on this post as it talks about grief, sexual assault and trying to make a difference from the traumas that we experience. Please take care when reading or feel free to scroll on by.

I can only guess that it was around 10am in the morning on 10th May 2002-to be honest time was elastic that morning. I was in the unlovely concrete WA Police Headquarters and a weary female Constable and I were still hard at it getting my statement done. She had worked all night prior to my call coming in at I guess around 5am. As the only female on duty it was her job to be with me while I got my statement done. In my naiveté I thought it wouldn’t take too long. After all the horrifying home invasion and sexual assault probably hadn’t lasted longer than 15-20 minutes. How long could it take to commit that to paper? Hours and hours and hours, I discovered.

But at 10am on the 10th of May I had to say to that weary Constable that something good would come of this.

She looked at me and said “let’s just focus on the statement, shall we? And then you can save the world later on.” We both laughed. We had bonded by then and I have never forgotten her or her many kindnesses to me that night.

But she had a point. I still hadn’t done the forensic examination, and that too was many hours long ahead.

Fast forward to 2022. As a podcast fiend, and big fan of Maya Shanka’s A Slight Change of Plans podcast I was glued to the episode featuring Nora McInerny. She had also lost her father and had a miscarriage, all within six weeks. Nora was determined to make meaning from this clusterfuckery. She honoured her husband’s memory and worked through her grief by developing the peer support group called the Hot Young Widows.

Over time this consumed and depleted her, but quitting seemed unthinkable. Would that mean she was “over” her husband’s death, that his life hadn’t counted? There’s a moment in the second half of the podcast episode where she talks about the moment where she knew something had to give.

I had to stop the recording and capture it like a bug in amber for this week’s Sunday blog:

The headline of your story changes as life goes on. So there absolutely was a period of time in life where the most important thing that I could relay to somebody me was that my husband died. They needed to know that and it needed to be the first thing that they knew because that was the most important thing about me, to me in that moment. It’s a bullet point now. And that’s OK.

I did listen to that weary Constable that morning and re-focused on doing the statement that morning. But I began writing the daily journal that helped me write my memoir Not My Story.

And I clearly remember in the weeks and months after 10th May, I too felt it was the most important thing for people to know that about me. That I had survived a home invasion and sexual assault. I even felt that if they got to know me without this “most important thing about me, to me in that moment” they may even feel that they had liked and trusted me on false pretences. That when they knew the horrid truth they would reject me. The impact of my early, uncontrolled disclosure was soon apparent to me. I learned that no-one would reject me when they knew the truth and that I needed to take care of the listener before blurting.

Nora McInerny’s description of our life’s headline changing over time really spoke to me. I imagined some of my life’s headlines, framed over seven year intervals.

  • Only Gen-Xer born into large Catholic family of Boomers
  • 7 year-old goes completely off school but sadistic nun says “nothing to see here”
  • 14 year-old goes to Europe. Mind blown.
  • Second keg saves 21st as party exceeds numbers expected
  • 28 year old Perth girl gets dumped in London, can’t stomach Bridget Jones’ Diary
  • 34 year old cheats medicalised birthing system by sneaking in a drug-free birthing pool delivery in a Perth hospital (I know, that’s way too long for a headline)

I was 36 when there was an actual headline after the sentencing of the man who broke into my home – it just said “Man rapes mother.” I think I might still have that clipping somewhere. I kind of hope that I don’t.

  • 49 year old self-publishes a memoir and has to keep her day job
  • 56 year old embarks on menopausal gap year

I mean, it’s kind of fun, isn’t it? Playing about with our headlines? But also, it’s absolutely true. It’s ok for us to have new headlines. Life goes on.

Have fun creating…

Sunday Blog 59 – 30th October 2022

It was the long ago, faraway world of 1983 and I was in Year 13 – the first year out of school. I was dating someone older than me so that meant I was adopting all his preferences, in this case music. I found myself camped outside of the old Perth Entertainment Centre waiting to buy tickets to a concert. This place has since disappeared but looked like the lid of a coke bottle. It has been replaced by something that looks like blue origami created by someone on acid.

There was some excitement back in 1983 as Perth often missed out on these types of concerts – and because it was David Bowie was back after a five year break from touring. At some point in the middle of the coldish night of camping out I found myself admitting “I don’t really like David Bowie.”

But I was swept along on the passivity of a young woman and helped that group of friends get tickets for us all. While that concert did not turn me into a raving fan, I had to acknowledge Bowie’s talent. This talent only continued to blossom and spread and iterate over several art forms over the years.

So yesterday I took myself off to see Moonage Daydream, not so much a documentary as an immersion into Bowie’s creative life. It does follow a chronology but is described as immersive. For me this meant I often felt a bit lost but on a very picturesque path which every now and then had a signpost for me to orientate. I had to google him afterwards and there were just so many interesting details I learned that might have been in a traditional documentary but this was really an anthem to creativity.

He got to go right through all the life stages of development to get to a tranquil but very creatively productive maturity. His advice towards the end was to enjoy the creative process. How radical a thought – forget the tortured artist and truck loads of drugs – just give time to your art and do what you enjoy.

What a radical dude he was, right to the end.

You are the sky…

Sunday Blog 58 – 23rd October 2022

Getting Covid right at the end of the “official” pandemic, when staying home is only recommended, not mandated, has been strange on so many levels.

What’s weirdest for me is wanting to stay close to home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home, but I adore heading out into the world, hustling and bustling my way around the place. Sticking my nose in here, looking at something artsy there. Eating food and drinking wine and being with people.

It’s a strange in-between time for me. I have hit the six month mark of having joined the great Covid Resign trend by leaving my job. This pause reminds me of 24 years ago when I returned from Europe after a ten year absence, five months pregnant and taking my first break from work for a long time.

Stepping out of the powerful river of relentless working is a strange and wonderful thing. But now I feel stripped of ambition and the will to leave the house. Doing one thing a day is ambitious and I have an almost superstitious need to get back home.

I did leave the house for a walk, listening to a podcast as I meandered. It was a conversation between Marie Forleo and Danielle La Porte about Danielle’s new book How To Be Loving. Danielle discussed the Buddhist concept of likening ourselves to the sky. We are the sky – we are consciousness. The clouds are emotions which will pass. They are not us.

I looked up at the sky and it was completely covered in clouds, not a single bit of blue to be seen. That definitely reflected my state of mind. But it did help a little to remind myself that above the clouds the skies are blue.